Cruppen won’t drop guard for final

September 7, 2015

Richard Bullick

Her team may have already seen off their great rivals Clann Eireann in the semi-final but Carrickcruppen captain Caroline O’Hanlon isn’t counting chickens ahead of Saturday night’s Mackin’s Senior Championship showpiece.

Cruppen play Armagh Harps in the Athletic Grounds (7.45pm) and would be firm favourites based purely on their vastly superior recent record in the competition though they face a Harps side very much on the up.

The Camlough club are contesting their fifth final this decade having lifted the Marie Hoye Cup for the first time in 2010 and repeated that triumph two years ago.

By contrast Harps haven’t contested a senior showpiece since late last century when they were most recently crowned champions by beating Killeavy in 1998, with club legend Paula Enright (formerly Powell) the only survivor from that team.

Carrickcruppen have only fielded an adult ladies side since 2005 but have enjoyed outstanding success in a meteoric rise through the ranks in their first decade.

Armagh great O’Hanlon has captained the team since its inception, leading them to triumphs at Junior, Intermediate and subsequently Senior level where they have had an intense rivalry with Clann Eireann in recent years.

The established Big Two have contested all but one county final this decade, the exception being 2012 when Clann Eireann came from eight down to overcome Cruppen in the last four before predictably beating Dromintee but this weekend’s decider certainly doesn’t look like a foregone conclusion.

Because of the glaring gulf between the top two and everyone else there were even calls last year for a seeded draw to ensure Carrickcruppen and Clann Eireann were kept apart until the final.

When the traditional rivals came out in the same half this spring, it offered Armagh Harps or Grange a golden opportunity to reach the final but many may have felt that a place in the showpiece was the best these sides could realistically hope for.

By the same token, whoever would win the blockbuster semi between champions Clann Eireann and last season’s beaten finalist Cruppen could be seen as having one hand on the trophy.

The Camlough girls rightly celebrated a wonderful win over their bitter rivals at Mullabrack when they secured a valiant victory in spite of playing more than half the match with 14 women thanks to an astonishingly soft red card for Cruppen vice-captain Marian McGuinness.

But having fought hard for this opportunity, O’Hanlon is insisting there’s no danger of complacency undoing the good work which has got her team here.

In recent years a Championship match between either of the big two and any other team might reasonably have been regarded as a foregone conclusion such has been the duo’s dominance.

This time however there is a different feeling thanks to the impressive momentum Harps have been building in reeling off a succession of convincing victories in league games and the formidable depth and pedigree in their ranks led by a signficant county contingent.

“Harps seem to be gaining a lot of confidence from their league games and the fact their top players have been playing big roles in the county team,” says O’Hanlon.

“They’re flying high and will be going into this final with a very positive vibe and plenty of excitement in the club because it has been a while since their last one.

“But the Championship means an awful lot to our club too, we’ve a point to prove after our very lack-lustre performance in last year’s final and it would be an awful waste if we don’t back up the good win we had in the semi-final.

“We’re well aware of what Harps will bring to the table and have every respect for them but it’s important we don’t lose sight of our own strengths and the experience our team has of these big games.

“Our preparations have been going well, we’ve got great support in the club and everyone’s really looking forward to playing on the big stage of the Athletic Grounds.  The fact that it isn’t ourselves against Clann Eireann for a change has maybe made it a more interesting game and will give the final a fresh feel.”

Harps recently rattled up an imposing 3-23 in beating Shane O’Neill’s, who had a famous away win at Cruppen earlier this season in the first competitive match between the neighbours.

They have six players in the Armagh panel, twice Cruppen’s present representation, although that statistic is slightly misleading as Sinead Finnegan and Caoimhe Murray only opted out recently to concentrate on club football.

However Harps have had a big boost since the semi-final with the return to gaelic football of Newry City Ladies soccer captain Aoife Lennon, who hit 1-10 against Silverbridge in her first game back.

The following week she was on the Armagh bench, got 25 minutes next time in the Westmeath match and earned a first start in the quarter-final against Donegal when she top scored with 1-3.

A confident footballer in either code, Lennon certainly won’t be daunted by the occasion while her fellow forward Kelly Mallon won a second successive Armagh Senior Championship camogie medal with Madden last week having captained them to a famous success last season and been named Player of the Match in the final.

Earlier this summer Mallon won her fifth senior All-Ireland road bowls title and has developed into an increasingly important player for Armagh the past couple of summers.

O’Hanlon’s captaincy counterpart Fionnuala McKenna made the All-Stars shortlist last year and is really relishing the prospect of leading Harps in her first senior final.

The city club possess plenty of forward firepower for Lennon, Mallon and McKenna are joined by fellow county panellist Siobhan Feeney who hasn’t had any Armagh gametime lately but hit 5-4 for Harps against Dromintee a few weeks ago.

Cailin Duffy has a point to prove having been cut from the Armagh panel after the National League and she will have an important role to play in a defence featuring the evergreen Enright and Tanya McCoy.

McCoy captained Harps last season when Enright was on a maternity break and the extra responsibility brought the best out of her, leading to an Orchard call-up this season when she has started several Championship matches.

Young Annalivia Hynds has been training with Armagh recently and togged in matchday squads while Sinead McParland and Sinead McCready have previous county experience.

Another Harps player worth a mention is 16-year-old Leah McGoldrick, who won Player of the Match, in last week’s county camogie final and is also a rising star in rugby and road bowls.

So there is sufficient cause for Cruppen to take the threat extremely seriously and not think that the job was done that memorable evening in Mullabrack when players like Finnegan and Rebecca O’Reilly really showed their worth.

Those two along with Murray and Megan Cinnamond have been an experienced core there together for recent league games while Cruppen should benefit from McGuinness getting her first start of Armagh’s season in last weekend’s All-Ireland semi-final.

McGuinness might otherwise have been rusty from playing so little football but she should hit the ground running now while being back playing for Armagh this summer will have newly qualified doctor Caitlin Malone better prepared than last September when she had just returned from her overseas placement.

The Orchard contingent will be heartbroken by the dashing of Armagh’s All-Ireland dream but they coped well with only a four day turnaround from the Ulster title loss in July to the club semi-final.

O’Hanlon herself is well used to moving quickly from one important match to another, even between sports, and with Carrickcruppen having such a special place in her heart there is no question of the illustrious skipper not being in the right frame of mind.

Two years ago she bounced back from anguish after falling foul of scoreboard confusion in a one-point qualifier defeat by Cork to lead Cruppen to victory in the final and performed well last year a week after Armagh’s All Ireland semi-final loss.

She showed last Saturday against Dublin that, for all the hype surrounding Harps players, Carrickcruppen still have the ace card going into the final and as always the triple All-Star can be expected to deliver a top performance.

Harps have dangerous forwards with a clear goal threat but teenager Dearbhail McCullough has been an exciting find up front for Cruppen who are likely to even have one or two useful forwards on the bench.

Anna Carr is a very good young goalkeeper so Cruppen would appear to have most bases covered as they approach yet another final though their first under the management team of Barry Flynn and his dad Gerry.

O’Hanlon has praised the contribution of these two committed clubmen who will hope to follow in the footsteps of Lorraine McCaffrey and Fionnuala McAtamney by securing Senior Championship success in their first season at the helm.